Omelas and Justice

“Tell me the story of Omelas” my advisor said to me and my classmates on a warm summers day last year. When it came time discuss utilitarianism in the Morality and Justice class I am a TA for, I decided to take a page from advisor’s book and introduced my students to “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin.

My students, even though they are new to philosophy, did what most philosophy students do–they tried to analyze, critique, rationalize, and otherwise approach the piece as academics rather than as readers of a narrative, as visitors to another world. They tried to identify the conclusion, name the premises, and spell out an argument implicit in Le Guin’s story. Given that these were the skills which, as a class, we had been emphasizing from day one it was not surprising to see them take this approach. It was also not surprising to see many folks hesitant to put aside the philosophical toolboxes that had become their comfort items for discussing difficult topics and having difficult conversations.

Eventually, in small groups and with much prodding, they set aside their need to analyze and told one another the story of Omelas. Several students, more excited to read the story than the assigned reading for that week, tried to jump to the end and had to rein in their exuberance. This led to a few more moments of tumolt but things quieted down and we got to work discussing Omelas. Continue reading “Omelas and Justice”